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Historic win puts Irish girls in control of their destiny

Ireland 17-14 New Zealand

By Donnchadh Boyle

History in Marcoussis, but already Ireland are focused on the opportunity presented by their sensational victory over New Zealand.

French rugby's high performance centre will forever have a place in the lore of the women's game in Ireland after Philip Doyle's heroic charges – who included Ulster duo Ashleigh Baxter of Belfast Harlequins and Grace Davitt from Cooke – defeated the world champions in an epic tussle.

However, while the win itself was important, the reward of going into the last game of Pool B in pole position for a semi-final spot is even greater.

While the country got caught up in the moment, Fiona Coghlan and Alison Miller were already looking ahead to Friday afternoon's meeting with Kazakhstan.

The consensus going into yesterday's first meeting with the Black Ferns was that Ireland were chasing the best runner-up spot in the last four.

However, the team themselves had different ideas.

Showing that their 2013 Grand Slam was no fluke, Coghlan and Co faced down the Haka and danced to their own tune for the opening 20 minutes.

They began at a furious pace and must have been scratching their heads at being behind at half-time.

New Zealand came out and threw the kitchen sink at their opponents during a dominant third quarter, but the Irish defence held firm throughout, with Niamh Briggs heroic in the last line.

The Waterford native then created the all-important try for Miller with a stunning counter, converted it from the touchline and, after Kelly Brazier had levelled, nailed the winning penalty.

Ireland closed out the game on the front foot, with scrum-half Tania Rosser finding touch from the New Zealand five-metre line as Ireland drove home their advantage.

They had started like a train, denying the world champions possession and playing with a ferocious pace during a 20-minute period.

Mary Louise Reilly dominated the New Zealand line-out and the pack were on top at the scrum where they were controversially denied a penalty try they deserved in the opening stages as they looked to capitalise on their dominance.

As the pack edged over the line and Heather O'Brien prepared to pounce, Rawinia Everitt broke her bind and dived on the ball, preventing a certain try.

American referee Leah Berard kept her cards in her pocket and awarded the minimum of a penalty and Everitt managed to bundle O'Brien into touch from the re-set.

Incredibly, it was the world champions who opened the scoring and even less credibly they managed to open an 8-0 lead.

Brazier knocked over a penalty to punish some Irish indiscipline, but the Black Ferns showed their menace when capitalising on a dropped ball to move it wide and full-back Selica Winiata coasted over.

Ireland could have been shell-shocked, but they believed they could bounce back.

"We were relentless at the start and we should have had more points," Miller said. "We knew we had them, it was about being patient. We were all over them and we knew that if we played smart we'd convert it into points.

"We just had to keep the heads up at 8-0. It was the same in the USA game, we went down, but didn't panic. The self-belief is in your head, we could have panicked, but that's not part of the ethos of the team. If we were patient the scores would come."

That they did and by half-time they had reduced the deficit to a point as O'Brien crashed over and Briggs converted.

In the second half, Miller burned Emma Jensen on the outside to score right in the corner.

That left Briggs with a difficult conversion, but she delivered in style. With 20 minutes to go, Brazier levelled. But Briggs replied in kind to restore Ireland's lead and the Irish got over the line.

IRELAND: N Briggs; A Baxter, L Cantwell, G Davitt (J Murphy h-t), A Miller; N Stapleton, T Rosser; F Coghlan (capt), G Bourke, A Egan; S Spence, ML Reilly (L Guest 61-66); P Fitzpatrick (S Fleming 75), C Molloy, H O'Brien (L Guest 77).

NEW ZEALAND: S Winiata; R Wickliffe, H Manuel, A Rule, H Hireme (C Richardson 59); K Brazier, E Jensen (K Cocksedge 72); K Wilton (R McKay 54), F Fa'amausili (capt), A Nelson (S Te Ohaere-Fox 66); E Blackwell, J Patea (J Lavea 53); R Everitt, L Itunu, C Roberston (A Savage 66).

Referee: L Berard (USA).

Belfast Telegraph

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